Liquid Fuel and bioEnergy Supply from CO2 Reduction

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Chemical Engineering


The current fuel production and related industries are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. BP's "Statistical Review of World Energy" published in 2014 states that the world has in reserves 892 billion tonnes of coal, 186 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, and 1688 billion barrels of crude oil. Although these represent huge reserves, taking into account today's level of extraction, would mean that coal would be exhausted in 113 years and natural gas and crude oil would be extracted by 2069 and 2067, respectively. In the meanwhile, the CO2 atmospheric concentration has increased from 270 ppm before the industrial revolution to 400 ppm today and its annual release is predicted to exceed 40GT/year by 2030. As the world population increases, breakthrough technologies tackling both fuel supply and carbon emission challenges are needed. The use of CO2 from, or captured in industrial processes, as a direct feedstock for chemical fuel production, are crucial for reducing green house gas emission and for sustainable fuel production with the existing resources.
The aim of this project is to develop a breakthrough technology with integrated low cost bio-electrochemical processes to convert CO2 into liquid fuels for transportations, energy storage, heating and other applications. CO2 is firstly electrochemically reduced to formate with the electric energy from biomass and various wastes and other renewable sources by Bioelectrochemical systems (BES). The product then goes through a biotransformation SimCell reactor with microorganisms (Ralstonia) specialised in converting formate to medium chain alkanes using a Synthetic biology approach. The proposed technology will develop around the existing wastewater treatment facilities from for example, petroleum refineries and water industries, utilising the carbon source in wastewater, thus minimising the requirement to transport materials and use additional land. To tackle the grand challenges, a multidisciplinary team of five universities will work together to develop this groundbreaking technology.
Our research targets two specific aspects on renewable low carbon fuel generation: 1) Use of biomass and wastewater as a source of energy and reducing power to synthesise chemicals from CO2. 2) Interface electrochemical and biological processes to achieve chemical energy-to-fuels transformation.
To achieve the goal of this project, there are three major research challenges we need to tackle:
1. How to maximise the power output and energy from wastewater with Bioelectrochemical systems?
2. How to achieve CO2 conversion to medium chain alkanes through reduction to formate in Microbial electrolysis cells, and then SimCells?
3. Can we develop a viable, integrated, efficient and economic system combining bio-electrochemical and biological processes for sustainable liquid fuel production?

To tackle these challenges, we need to maximise energy output from wastewater by using novel 3-D materials, to apply highly active electrochemical catalysts for CO2 reduction, to improve efficiency of SimCell reactor, and to integrate both processes and design a new system to convert CO2 to medium chain alkanes with high efficiency. In this study, rigorous LCA will be carried out to identify the optimum pathways for liquid biofuel production. We will also look at the policies on low carbon fuel production and explore the ways to influence low carbon fuel policies. Through the development of this innovative technology, we will bring positive impact on the UK's target for reducing CO2 emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy.

Planned Impact

The main impact will be a technology to produce carbon based fuels in a potentially sustainable way based on extracting energy from biomass and waste using bio-electrosynthesis based process routes.
A major impact will be to tackle the burden of CO2 emissions (nationally and eventually internationally) and transferring the energy in waste to produce useful liquid fuels, from CO2, without petrochemicals.
The integrated bio-electrosynthesis process to produce alkanes from CO2 as either fuels, chemical feedstock or energy storage medium is seen as a major way of redressing the balance between petroleum and natural gas consumption and carbon emissions. By using carbon dioxide as the basic building block for chemical synthesis and supplying energy for it conversion from substantially waste and renewable sources, this will have a major impact on achieving the goal of sustainable low fuel production. Scaled-up devices will have considerable potential for generating fuels from CO2 and through waste treatment at significant capacities.
Commercialisation potential tackling real world problem, close to the CO2 generating source and using existing wastewater treatment infrastructure are important factors which minimise investment and require no additional land. This innovative technology has a positive impact on the UK's target for reducing CO2 emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy.

Social Economic
The proposed technology and liquid fuels produced will have extensive applications, and relate to different industrial sectors. Apart from our industrial partners from different industrial sectors, the industrial sectors will be benefit/interested in the proposed technology on low carbon fuel production from CO2 and use the energy from waste including: Oil and Gas companies, who already started on generating low carbon energy, such as BP; Transportation equipment manufacturing industries Car, aviation and ship, rail and other equipment manufacturers, who have produced vehicles and airplanes running on biofuels, and Public Transportation providers who already use biofuels.
The proposed integrated system will have wide applications particularly to industries producing wastewater with high organic contents, such as petroleum refinery, pharmaceutical, chemical production, breweries, agriculture and the paper and pulp industry as well as food and drinks. The technologies that will be developed in the project will permit them to recover value from their waste products, turning waste to high energy source.

More immediately the research will have impact on our industrial collaborators who will be involved in developing new materials and processes as a result of their collaboration with the academic researchers in this project ( e.g. NewCell, Haydale, MagnetoChemie, WH Partnership). These and other organizations will be involved from the outset in identifying research needs and planning a project that will meet them.

The societal significance of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and geological resources is immense and this will clearly impact environmental regulators, policy makers and politicians.


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EP/N009746/1 01/03/2016 30/06/2020 £1,924,296
EP/N009746/2 Transfer EP/N009746/1 01/07/2020 31/12/2020 £113,356